So, here are the things most important to me. Keep in mind, that I'm coming at it from the perspective of a designer and a code writer, but first and foremost, I am a customer of yours. As you'll see below, I'm a picky customer, but we all deal with those.
You are an author. I'm there to find out about your books. So please make them easy to find. Your site should be easy to navigate.
What I want to see:
- Simple, straightforward navigation.
- Books: already pubbed, forthcoming, backlist. I want them all.
- Covers (not so huge that they overpower the rest of the information, but big enough that I'll recognize it on the bookshelf at Borders)
- If a book is part of a series, let me know. And let me know the order of the series.
- Links to where to purchase, if it's a hard-to-find or OOP book. If it's not? I know where to go.
- A link to your bio
- A link to your blog
- I'm also a huge fan of sitemaps (which Google and Yahoo love, BTW, so they are search engine friendly and are more likely to get you indexed in the major search engines if done properly).
- KEEP IT UP TO DATE. If you haven't updated your website in a year, and have 2 new releases in that time? Yeah, I'm not coming back.
All layed out in a logical fashion, easy, uncomplicated navigation so I can find what I came for.
What I don't mind:
- Contest page
These are "nice to have's", but they aren't the reason that I go to an author's website.
What I don't want:
- Music (especially autoplay, but I don't come to your site for music; I come for books)
- Trailers: While I know a lot of folks like these, they are not the reason I come to your site. I usually don't watch these when they reside on an author's site. However, I will watch them if you post them on your blog. Go figure. I think it's a distraction from the reason I come to the actual site itself, though.
- A "members only" section where you post chapters, etc that normal folks like me don't get to see. If you want to require me to sign up for your newsletter to see these, that's one thing (although I hate that, too.) But to require me to remember yet another login and password? Forget it.
- Complicated navigation where I have to click through 5 or 6 pages to find your books. NO!
- Huge graphics and lots of scripts: They make a site load slowly - especially in mobile.
- Images of naked guys (and girls, but let's face it - it's usually the guys) that aren't safe for me to view at work without getting my ass fired for viewing pornography. (BTW, this goes for blogs, too.)
And now for the visual:
- Header: Your header should be just that: an image or menu at the head (read TOP) of the page. If your header takes up half the page, I have to scroll below the fold just to see content. Bad idea. I know those pretty images are nice and all, but they aren't why I'm coming to your site.
- Colors: Your background and text colors (and fonts) are the most important thing you can do visually on your site. If the site is hard to read, either because the font is too small, or the text color is too light, then I won't visit you. If the background is dark, I have a hard time visiting on my mobile device because it's too hard to read. Personally, for content I like a white (or light) background and dark text (black or something similar). As my eyes are now firmly ensconced in their 5th decade, I need easy to see. If I have to squint to read it? Bad. If you want the frame to be dark, I have no problem with that. Be as creative as you'd like. But I need to be able to actually see and read the content.
The web is becoming about two things: content and discoverability. If I can't find your site when I google you, you have a problem. And if I can't read or navigate your site when I get there to see the content, you have a bigger problem.
One last note about reading on a mobile device: my phone is where I go through my Google Reader. I'd rather not click through to the site to read a blog post. I'll click through if I want to comment, but just to read the post? No thanks. So if you only put a partial feed on your blog, it gets deleted from my blogroll. Immediately. I don't care how interesting your posts are. If I can't read them all at once, I won't read them at all.
Mobile devices are changing the way we surf the net. I read this great article from Wired (which is a site I monitor in my day job). Basically, the gist is that a person can be online all day, and never once use the "web" as we've come to know it (ie, a laptop, PC or Mac). On my phone, I check my email, click through a link in an email to a website and view that site. I read Facebook and post to it. I read Twitter and tweet. I listen to music. I can read the newspaper or this week's issue of Time. Then I go onto my XBox and hook up with friends to play games. Then, when the game is over, I watch a movie streaming through the XBox from Netflix. All that time, I've been using the internet, but not the traditional web.
My point is this: websites need to be mobile friendly. This means optimizing for mobile. You don't know how to write in HTML5 yet? No worries. Simple, basic things make it easier for a mobile user to access your site. White/light background for content and easy to read dark text. Simple, straightforward navigation. Minimize logins so I don't have to type while I browse. Clean code so that the site isn't bogged down and runs faster. And once again, let me reiterate. If your site is written completely in Flash, the majority of mobile users can't read it.
Remember what it is that you want people to do on your site. But more important than what you want them to do, is what they want to do. What is the primary purpose of a customer/reader/whatever when they visit your site? Is it to find out about your books so they can BUY them? Is it to read your blog? Is it to network (which, BTW, should be done via your blog & other networking sites that you should feel free to link to from your site)? Once you know that, it makes it much easier to design your navigation and content.
What do you like or not like about author's websites? If you are an author, do you think about mobile users when you design your site and your blog? Or do you still prefer the pretty and shiny? And BTW, I think you can have both easy and pretty & shiny. I do. But be smart about the way you do it.